The White Cat and the Monk: A Retelling of the Poem "Pangur Bán" by Jo Ellen Bogart
Illustrations by Sydney Smith
Publisher: Groundwood Books
Release Date: March 30, 2016
A monk leads a simple life. He studies his books late into the evening and searches for truth in their pages. His cat, Pangur, leads a simple life, too, chasing prey in the darkness. As night turns to dawn, Pangur leads his companion to the truth he has been seeking.
I readily admit my ignorance in not knowing about this poem. The first read through I was impressed by the illustrations and liked the story, but something about it felt...odd. However, when I read the afterward, I realized that feeling was because this wasn't a modern type of story or poem. A second read through was required and this time, that oddness now explained, the book felt perfect. At its heart, this is a story of contemplation and peace. A world full of solitude in which the monk sees life in comparison to his pet and how the two are intertwined.
The illustrations are in perfect sync with the text, capturing that ethereal quality of the poem without feeling heavy-handed in symbolism. Although this is a picture book, I think the audience is actually older than the average picture book audience. I can see it working really well to help teach poetry to older elementary school and even middle school students.